Utopian and Anti-Utopian Logic:H.G. Wells and his Successors*
[Copyright: Columbia University Press]
[A slightly different version of the following essay will form the concluding chapter of The Logic of Fantasy: H.G. Wells and Science Fiction, a book by Huntington scheduled to appear this fall under the imprint of the ColumbiaUniversity Press. Huntington's remarks here, while they can stand on their own, may be best appreciated when read as the sequel to "Thinking by Opposition: The `Two-World' Structure in H.G. Wells's Short Fiction" in SFS No. 25.—Eds.]
1. It is generally recognized that Wells's work before 1900 is less prophetic and utopian than his later work. The ironic, comic stories and the great "scientific romances" constitute a body of literature that, while intensely interested in the possibilities of civilization and issues of domination, is for the most part skeptical of resolutions and solutions. After 1900, beginning with Anticipations (1901), Wells embarks on a more resolved course, predicting things to come and building utopias. Though this later mode may sacrifice some of the complexity of vision that is so valuable in the earlier mode, it nevertheless generates more effective polemic. For Wells at this stage in his career, to remain balanced in the midst of contraries, while it is a position of energizing tension and of broad perspectives, is to render oneself powerless to change the world. Without claiming that it is impossible to do both, we can readily admit that Wells's particular imagination cannot. The two modes are for him antithetical, and he is unable to yoke them successfully.
If we are to take the aesthetic and intellectual issues of this dichotomy seriously, we need to do more than merely chart the various ways Wells handled them. We need to question the possibilities and failures of the forms themselves. Here I want to evaluate Wells's accomplishment in terms of the development of a particular genus of literature with a special set of structural characteristics. My purpose here is to understand the intellectual possibilities of certain structures and to sketch how the two forms Wells works in suggest a larger intellectual field of utopian and anti-utopian structures. When, later on, I compare Wells's structures to those of other writers, I am interested, not in establishing the debts others owe him, but in tracing a few of the possibilities beyond Wells himself as a way of sketching the larger field.
The frustrations of the situation one can observe in "A Story of the Days to Come" ("Days to Come"; 1897) force Wells to try new forms. By the first decade of this century, he is more often applying his main imaginative energy to developing a fiction that addresses contemporary realistic social issues.1 During this period, when he does attempt the "scientific romance," he repeatedly returns to a very special form of it in which he depicts a strange and magical transformation from a corrupt and conflict-ridden world to a purged, sane, and entirely harmonious one. In the Days of the Comet (1906) is the first of these, but the form recurs again in The World Set Free (1914), Men Like Gods (1923), and The Dream (1924). These novels have not stood up well; it would be merely diligent to study all of them. But we need to understand the aesthetic issues Wells's imagination is confronting as he pushes his logic towards solution, and for that purpose a glance at the form of In the Days of the Comet (IDC) is in order.
The major alteration in the structure of Wells's logic that has occurred in IDC is camouflaged by his use of what looks like the "two-world system" of The Time Machine or The Wonderful Visit (from which the phrase comes).2 The novel juxtaposes two worlds that share personalities and geographies but which are radically different. The old world is ours, an "insane" world of war, class hatred, and murderous jealousy; the new world is that which a rational treatment of society and of human relations might supposedly create, an organized utopia in which all humans are free to realize their whole potential. The agent of juxtaposition is the comet through whose tail Earth passes. Our atmosphere is so modified that humanity, while remaining biologically the same as it was, suddenly acts sanely. One sees the possibility for ironic inquiry, as in Wells's 1890s' fiction, but the similarity to the structure of his earlier works is superficial; the before-after balance conceals a deep imaginative imbalance. The opposition we see so clearly in IDC is not a puzzle at all; the two worlds do not exist in any cognitive tension with each other. Instead the new world, nearly faultless, a model of uncomplicated rationality, simply displaces the old. We have no problem; we reject the first. Thus, in its large structure, this novel asks us not to balance ironically, but to choose, to eliminate, to simplify.
It is because of the comet that IDC is thrown in with Wells's earlier SF, whereas in fact neither part of the novel employs the kind of ironic thought we find in his early fiction. The realistic part of the novel, while it has attractions, lacks the element of logical fantasy, of organized landscape and plot that distinguishes the authentic "scientific romance." I do not intend this as a complaint, only as a distinction. The first part of IDC seems to me immensely successful in the tradition of Wells's realism. On the other hand, the utopian solution presents us with a world without conflict. The scientific romance falls in a range between these two broad generic types: it is neither realistic nor utopian. It is what I will call, with careful attention to its precise, stipulated meaning, anti-utopian.
The split in Wells's thought expresses itself in a dichotomy of genera, two forms of imaginative procedure, utopia and anti-utopia. By these terms I refer not to optimism or pessimism, but to the imaginative attempt to put together, to compose and endorse a world, and the opposite attempt to see through, to dismember a world. The familiar terminology here distinguishes, not political attitudes, but opposed structural principles of thought.3
Darko Suvin defines utopia as "a verbal construction of a particular quasi-human community where sociopolitical institutions, norms, and individual relationships are organized according to a more perfect principle than in the author's community."4 Suvin is especially concerned with seeing utopia as a literary form. Accepting that, I want here also to stress the importance of organization, community, and principle in this definition. The utopia is an exercise in thinking through a way things might fit together, might work; it strives for consistency and reconciles conflict. Utopia is, therefore, in the sense I am using the term, a verbal artifact with a distinctive imaginative imperative: it seeks coherence. At its purest utopia is like a mathematical equation: it achieves imaginative order; it accounts for all doubts; it solves.
Dystopia, in the structural configuration I am here defining, is similar to utopia. Dystopia (the bad place) is for our purposes utopia in which the positive ("more perfect principle") has been replaced by a negative. Though opposites on the surface, utopia and dystopia share a common structure: both are exercises in imagining coherent wholes, in making an idea work, either to lure the reader towards an ideal or to drive the reader back from a nightmare. Both are the expression of a synthetic imagination, a comprehension and expression of the deep principles of happiness or unhappiness.5
By anti-utopia I propose to refer to a type of skeptical imagining that is opposed to the consistencies of utopia-dystopia. If the utopian-dystopian form tends to construct single, fool-proof structures which solve social dilemmas, the anti-utopian form discovers problems, raises questions, and doubts. Both utopian and anti-utopian modes partake in some way of the "what if?" premise so valued by utopian and SF commentators, and both work by contrast of sorts, by what Suvin calls "cognitive estrangement." And since every utopia is a criticism of the world as it is, all utopian thought has a satiric dimension.6 But anti-utopia, as I am here defining it, is not simply satiric; it is a mode of relentless inquisition, of restless skeptical exploration of the very articles of faith on which utopias themselves are built. Thus, while there is much anti-utopian satire, it is not an attack on reality but an exploration of conflicts in human desire and expectation. While the utopia attempts a vision of a coherent preferable world and draws our attention to the way it improves on the world we have, the anti-utopia questions utopian solutions even as it proposes them.7 It enjoys the construction of imaginary community, but does not succumb to the satisfactions of solutions. By the same mechanism the anti-utopia can acknowledge, virtures in oppressive situations even while denouncing them.
At the core of the anti-utopia is not simply an ideal or a nightmare, but an awareness of conflict, of deeply opposed values that pure utopia and dystopia tend to override. If utopia seeks imaginative solutions, anti-utopia goes beyond to return to the powerful and disturbing ambivalences that come from perceiving simultaneous yet conflicting goods. Thus, the Selenites in The First Men in the Moon (1901) represent an ideal that twists into horror, and a horror that takes on shadings of the ideal. In the passage on physically shaping infants to prepare them for their adult tasks, Wells forces the reader to consider whether it is better to "use" or to "waste" a person. Philosophically this may be a false dichotomy; there are of course other ways than these two of dealing with human beings; but rhetorically the passage makes us approve and condemn both our own world and the Selenite solution. By ingeniously posing the issue in terms of a narrow and irresolvable conflict, the passage generates yearning and skepticism, and that conduction is the essence of anti-utopian thought.
We can explore further the various ways the structural principle based on conflict functions at a level beneath that of explicit theme by beginning with Wells. In tracing his progress from anti-utopian imaginings to utopian prophetic ones, we can see how he changes the way he negotiates contradictions. His earliest period is one of rigorous thought and exploration which, though it flirts with deep pessimism, never falls into simple dystopia. The Time Machine (1895) is a guide which leads us away from a delusive utopian vision of pastoral simplicity towards a much more complex vision of antithetical balances: guilt and innocence, labor and ease, decline and triumph, change and stasis. This first major work represents anti-utopianism at its purest. It does not condemn utopian imaginings, nor does it despair about the possibility of a planned future—one of the strong messages of The Time Machine is that the predatory world of 802,701 is avoidable. By the same token, the fiction gives aesthetic form to the contradictions existing within our own civilization and its values; and together with his other SF of the 1890s, it thus constitutes a large anti-utopian project.
2. In an investigation of the difference between anti-utopia and utopiadystopia, When the Sleeper Wakes (WSW; 1899) assumes a remarkably important position, for it marks the point of intersection of the two genera. As a transitional work, WSW serves Wells in ways that are evident to us only after we understand the contradictions between the two ways of thought that he espoused. "Days to Come," while it has signs of frustration, remains anti-utopian; at the end Denton and Elizabeth balance at the edge of the monstrous city and try to "find their place." WSW, though it shares the same city and the same technological imagery, cannot remain content with such meditative perspectives. It reaches towards, though it does not grasp, the sort of utopian solution we see at the end of IDC. Embedded in the horror of dystopian servitude are gestures of utopian liberation, and while the novel ends on an ambiguous note, it is also clear that it has by the end broken clear of the static conflicts of anti-utopia. If "Days to Come" is a novella that seems to have begun with hopes of becoming a utopia, slid into dystopia, and finally retreated back to anti-utopia, WSW has started from anti-utopia and thrashed its way towards utopia-dystopia. Wells himself was unhappy with the "solutions" the novel offers, but whatever its failures as an individual work, it marks an important point of possibility that has attracted many imitators. It is an artistic and intellectual failure, but it is an extraordinary historical success.
WSW shares with "Days to Come" a deep ambivalence about the liberating possibilities of technology. We have already seen how in "Days to Come" the imagery of the future, while it seems to promise alternatives and mediation, circles on itself and closes off escape. In WSW, by beginning to explore the political-economic structure that governs that technology, Wells would seem to be pushing the issue further. In this novel he turns to revolution for his promise of alternative, but then, after setting up what might be fruitful antitheses between the few and the many, capital and labor, he abandons the conflict.
The crucial figure for understanding the dilemma the novel faces is Ostrog. Early in the novel he opposes the Council, and as long as he stands for labor against the capitalist Council the opposition seems meaningful. But, like the transition from Morris to Mwres in "Days to Come," the change from Council rule to Ostrog turns out to be a change which makes no difference. Graham, the hero, soon learns that Ostrog, the Boss, stands, not for change, but merely for an alternative tyranny, and that the revolution still has to be made. So Graham challenges Ostrog, and we approach again what looks like the same opposition. But an important change has taken place that deprives this new opposition of real content: the Council stood for an idea of economic structure, privilege, and control, but Ostrog stands for no economic, social, or political idea. He is merely the egoism of the powerful personality.8 We never know who benefits from his rule or why others follow and obey him. The revolt against Ostrog partakes in part-of the economic ideals of the initial revolt against the Council, but now it has become mainly a matter of personalities, of the good man, Graham, against the bad man, Ostrog.9
If Ostrog lacks an economic basis, he might nevertheless be seen to represent an oligarchic idea of the necessity of an elite to maintain social order and thus appeal to a theme to which Wells frequently returns. Against this elite stand the rights of "the people," for which Graham vaguely argues. But the novel, just as it gets rid of the economic motive of the Council, never sees the people as much more than a source of explosive energy. Graham, their defender and advocate, comes to the realization that to save the world he must rule. The difference between him and Ostrog lies not in any explicit political ideas about structure and priority, but simply, to use the phrase that Wells later insists on, "good will." Graham, like the Samurai, serves as he rules. He proves he is not like Ostrog by sacrificing himself at the end.
Graham himself works well as a mediating figure of the sort we come upon frequently in the early Wells, but whereas in the more general conflicts of the earlier work such a symbol allows for imaginative movement between opposed truths and goods, in this potentially more specific world such a symbol becomes simply ambiguous. Graham, "the Sleeper," is an outsider in the age, but he is at the center; he is a common man of no special distinction who is also "the Master"; he is economically most powerful, but also most moral; he rules, but he is powerless; he despairs at the beginning and he ends up an optimistic idealist. Graham combines in a single figure the double ideal represented at the end of IDC by Leadford and Melmount, the Prime Minister. These combinations involve familiar issues, but now a more concrete question has been posed: how can we change the social structure so as to prevent the nightmare of the future? In this context the symbolic mediation, while an important element in the preliminary thought on the issue, is obfuscating
Similarly, the puzzle of the future is nicely figured in the statue of Atlas supporting the world: Atlas is the Sleeper who as arch-capitalist supports the world, and he is also suffering labor. He is a figure of entrapped power and of the potentiality for change. But just as Graham's symbolic function heightens our sense of the problem but obscures the political solution, the Atlas statue, while its ambiguity helps us focus on the contradictions of this civilization, frustrates resolution. Wells himself seems impatient with it; he destroys it along with the council hall.
The clearest sign of the emptiness of the political-economic content of the novel is the fact that Graham, much as he objects to Ostrog's policies, is unable to justify revolution on economic grounds. Only when Ostrog employs Negro mercenaries is Graham roused to revolutionary action. A sense of racial outrage displaces and obscures the problem of economic oppression. The racial theme is not entirely a false issue; it has an ethical dimension, for at one point Wells links the black invasion with the idea of justice as he explores it in The War of the Worlds (1898): the Negroes "have been under the rule of the whites for two hundred years. Is it not a race quarrel? The race sinned—the race pays" (23:235-36).10 There is an important element of imperialist guilt here. But this theme is completely at odds with Graham's heroic resistance, and in any case has little to do with the issues of Ostrog's rule. When the mercenaries attack, the conflict between capital and labor is forgotten. As in other racist literature, the racial issue is used as a way of avoiding real political analysis.11
In "Days to Come" the circular insufficiency of love and suicide defines the closed system Wells's futuristic imagination has generated. Here in WSW Wells uses these same two motifs to try to break the deadlock. In doing so, however, he has to deprive the gestures of the precision that they had in "Days to Come," and he falls back on sentimental romance and heroic martyrdom as solutions.
Thematically, the romantic element is a gesture with powerful hopes behind it but with little thought. It stands in general for a violation of old structures and a revolutionary reinvigoration. Helen is Ostrog's niece, and a number of times it is remarked how extraordinary it is for her to aid the common people when her family connections lead all to expect her to serve her uncle's interests. Her empathy with human suffering becomes a revolutionary re-aligner which overrides tradition, whether genealogical or economic. Graham's love for her solves a problem posed at the very beginning of the novel when Graham, still living in the 19th century, confesses to Isbister: "I am a lone wolf, a solitary man, wandering through a world in which I have no part. I am wifeless—childless—who is it speaks of the childless as the dead twigs on the tree of life? I am wifeless, childless—I could find no duty to do. No desire even in my heart" (1:ó). Graham's love for Helen gives him energy and, by inspiring him to initiate ethical reform, a sense of duty. While we may approve the gesture, we have to admit that it is unexamined; next to the bitter ironies of the fourth chapter of "Days to Come," in which the facts of poverty undermine Denton's and Elizabeth's love, and next to the realistic difficulties of Mr Lewisham's choice of Ethel in Love and Mr Lewisham (1900), this cursory and undetailed love seems naive and merely conventional.
The suicide motif traceable in "Days to Come" recurs in WSW, but even more than in the case of love, Wells has stripped it of logical significance and turned it into a romantic gesture. At the beginning of the novel, Graham in despair contemplates leaping off a cliff, and at the end he sacrifices himself for victory over Ostrog. Neither suicide is a comment on civilization. Graham's complaint at the beginning is private; overwork has exhausted him; it is implied that most other people, those with wives and children, do not share his malady. At the end, when Graham because of his love for Helen has committed himself to serving civilization, he willingly and heroically uses the tool of civilization, the aeropile, to attack the oppressive machine and bring his own martyrdom. In "Days to Come" heroic action is impossible: escape, collaboration, and submersion—all unsatisfactory—are the only responses an overwhelming technological, capitalist civilization permits. In WSW, on the other hand, Wells easily assumes that the technology which so defines oppression can be used against itself.
Students of Wells have remarked on the "diminished intensity" of WSW.12 Certainly, the answers here are awfully easy. I would suggest that the problem with the novel lies also in the very nature of Wells's imaginative logic, that the techniques that have been so successful in the earlier fantasies become limitations as Wells tries to become more precise and more utopian. It is because he has taken on the truly difficult issues of his world and has such a lively sense of the areas of conflict that he does a poor job of working out solutions. A writer less attuned to the anti-utopian ironies of the world might succeed better at ignoring them.
In ridding the novel of its disturbing anti-utopianism by melodramatic gestures, Wells is being true to one important dynamic of WSW: the technological exuberance. The machine-dominated future, so the novel implies, does not have to be a nightmare. The melodrama is an attempt to rescue the utopian intuition that is roused and denied in "Days to Come" by the ironic anti-utopianism. By comparison with the novella, WSW is genuinely utopiandystopian. It rejects the deep ambivalences of anti-utopia. In place of the irresolvable dilemmas of anti-utopia, it prefers the unambiguous horror of dystopia which, it implies, might be transformed to utopia.
WSW poses a problem in genre and in thought that Wells never adequately resolved. We have here reached a limit: his anti-utopian meditation seems incapable of change; his utopian-dystopian melodrama leads to unconvincing changes that betray the authentic difficulties posed. Works such as IDC are expressions of the desire to leap beyond the dilemma, but as we have seen, the result is only an embarrassing exaggeration of the generic incompatibility.
I suspect that the dilemma Wells is facing lies near the heart of all authentic utopian enterprises. Later writers will pick up the essential situation Wells has posed and develop it in further directions, but the deep structural contradiction cannot be mediated. Either, as in the case of Zamyatin's We (1924), we commit ourselves to an infinitely dialectical anti-utopianism, or, as in the case of Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) or, in a different spirit, Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 (1953) or Huxley's Brave New World (1932), we quash ironic conflict and replace the puzzle with a single-valued structure, either dystopian or utopian. To look at the ways these later writers have handled the problem Wells posed himself tells us much about the structure and limits of the form itself.
Let me note that the following sketch of different resolutions of the logical-aesthetic problem WSW presents implies an historical development that is different from that drawn by Mark Hillegas in The Future as Nightmare: H.G. Wells and the Anti-Utopians. I do not see what I am doing here as a refutation or a contradiction of Hillegas, but simply as the charting of development along a different axis. Hillegas means something different from what I mean by the term "anti-utopian."13 The Wells that he posits is a more utopian thinker than the one I have been examining, and the later writers whom Hillegas sees as pitting themselves against Wells are reacting to that utopianist, not the anti-utopianist. I accept Hillegas's historical account. I am here tracing, not the history of attitudes towards Wells's utopian ideals, but the limits and possibilities of a form.14
3. Zamyatin's We is useful for our further understanding of anti-utopia for two reasons. First, the fact that We shares with the novels of Orwell, Bradbury, and Huxley, which will be discussed later, a loose debt to WSW allows us to see more neatly than might be otherwise possible the logical differences between utopian and anti-utopian thought. Second, We is the most radical variation on the Wellsian mode.
But let us also observe that Zamyatin is not the only anti-utopian developing out of the Wells tradition. Though it would lead us astray from our present purposes to explore their work in any detail, writers such as Karel Capek, Olaf Stapledon, and Ursula Le Guin deserve mention here. The elegant and pointedly contradictory truths of Capek's R.U.R. (1920), or the shifting satire of his War with the Newts (1937), wherein the victimized newts of the beginning become the fascist oppressors of the end, owe much to Wells's early logic.15 In Last and First Men (1930), Stapledon transforms the more or less static oppositions of Wells into a serial process of discovery, and his relentlessly dialectical history of the future picks up that mixture of yearning and skepticism that characterizes anti-utopia.16 Le Guin's The Dispossessed (1974), originally subtitled An Ambiguous Utopia,17 captures the two-world system of The First Men in the Moon; it both admires and criticizes its anarchist utopia. And the novel has moments of pure antiutopianism that rival Wells's descriptions of the Selenite "education" or of the Eloi pastoral. When Shevek, the anarchist protagonist, feels revulsion at the "excremental" excess of the foliage of deciduous trees, or when he is unable to comprehend the achievements made possible by the profit motive, we perceive the deepest issues of the novel struggling against each other: ascetic discipline versus abundant profusion, cooperative survival versus competitive production (The Dispossessed, 4:89; 3:73). Neither is the only possible mode of being; each generates prejudices which blind its adherents to the possibilities of the other.
Such works are important, but they are nevertheless recognizably close to Wells's own practice and therefore essentially familiar to us by now. Zamyatin adds to our understanding of the form by forcing contradiction into outright paradox. We is clearly anti-utopian, but it is also very different from Wells's work in the way it generates and negotiates conflict. However intricate the Wellsian logical system may become, it is not confusing; Zamyatin's, even at its most simple, baffles complacent understanding.18
We is a novel whose ironic ambiguity is relentless. The reader is made aware of powerful and significant symbols, but every major symbol, besides its primary signification, retains the potential for representing its exact opposite. This quality is acutely, or perhaps obtusely, observed by S-4711 when he reads D-503's diary: "Somewhat ambiguous," he remarks, "Nevertheless.... Well, continue" (28:167).19 S-4711's quick glance has uncovered a quality that marks the novel as subversive, but perhaps at a level different from that usually supposed. In oppressive societies ambiguity serves as camouflage: a statement able to be "misunderstood" will be so comprehended by the proper readers. The censor in such a society finds subversive meanings everywhere; and to the extent that S4711 functions as that kind of cryptographer, he is D-503's best reader, seeing more, probably, than the author of the memoir himself consciously knows. In this case the ambiguity that S4711 observes functions as something more than a veil hiding a single subversive meaning. The ambiguous language and symbolism of We harbor a set of deep contradictions that do more than simply challenge the repressive One State; they challenge any belief in settled understanding. Throughout the novel Zamyatin keeps alive a self-contradicting tension.
Zamyatin's advocacy of perpetual revolution is well known. It is preached by I-330 in We, and, speaking in his own voice, Zamyatin uses some of the same language, argument, and imagery in his 1923 essay, "On Literature, Revolution, Entropy, and Other Matters." It is worth looking at passages from this essay in some detail because Zamyatin's style here tells us more about the radical quality of the anti-utopian heresy he preaches than can any paraphrase of his argument:
Revolution [he writes] is everywhere, in everything. It is infinite. There is no final revolution, no final number. The social revolution is only one of an infinite number of numbers: the law of revolution is not a social law, but an immeasurably greater one. It is a cosmic, universal law— like the laws of the conservation of energy and of the dissipation of energy (entropy). Some day, an exact formula for the law of revolution will be established. And in this formula, nations, classes, stars—and books—will be expressed as numerical quantities.
The law of revolution is red, fiery, deadly; but this death means the birth of new life, a new star. And the law of entropy is cold, ice blue, like the icy interplanetary infinities. The flame turns from red to an even, warm pink, no longer deadly, but comfortable. The sun ages into a planet, convenient for highways, stores, beds, prostitutes, prisons this is the law. And if the planet is to be kindled into youth again, it must be set on fire, it must be thrown off the smooth highway of evolution: this is the law.
The flame will cool tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow (in the Book of Genesis days are equal to years, ages). But someone must see this already today, and speak heretically today about tomorrow. Heretics are the only (bitter) remedy against the entropy of human thought.20
In the first paragraph of this passage Zamyatin alludes to a division close to the one we have seen in early Wells: the difference between social and cosmic law is analogous to that between ethics and evolution (as in The Island of Doctor Moreau ). But if the cosmic (evolutionary) principle is invoked as the ultimate law of revolution to counter the lesser laws of social order and development, in the middle of Zamyatin's second paragraph the cosmic process is seen, not as revolutionary, but as entropic. If energy is to be regenerated, the world "must be thrown off the smooth highway of evolution: this is the law." Here Zamyatin in a few lines has come full circle; the principle that will counter evolutionary entropy is not the inevitable cosmic process, but willed heresy—in other words, a form of ethical activity. "Law" at the end of the second paragraph means not the natural "law" that takes place in spite of any conscious will, but a logical truth which sees the ethical activity of the human heretic as the only bitter remedy to the natural process. Thus, in the act of arguing for the inevitable revolution, Zamyatin ends up arguing for inevitable entropy; in place of cosmic process he turns to willed acts. The passage is absolutely contradictory. But in that contradiction lies its true thought-provoking power: the reader is not instructed; he is badgered by hectoring prose which backs him around in a circle. He ends not believing, but doubting; and that is Zamyatin's real message; that is the endless revolution.
In another passage from this same essay Zamyatin gives a kind of justification for such a procedure:
Organic chemistry has already obliterated the line between living and dead matter. It is an error to divide people into the living and the dead-there are people who are dead-alive, and people who are alive-alive. The dead-alive also write, walk, speak, act. But they make no mistakes; only machines make no mistakes, and they produce only dead things. The alive-alive are constantly in error, in search, in questions, in torment.
The same is true of what we write: it walks and it talks, but it can be dead-alive or alive-alive. What is truly alive stops before nothing and ceaselessly seeks answers to absurd, `childish' questions. Let the answers be wrong, let the philosophy be mistaken—errors are more valuable than truths: truth is of the machine, error is alive; truth reassures, error disturbs. And if answers be impossible of attainment, all the better! Dealing with answered questions is the privilege of brains constructed like a cow's stomach, which, as we know, is built to digest cud.
If there were anything fixed in nature, if there were truths, all of this would, of course, be wrong. But fortunately, all truths are erroneous. This is the very essence of the dialectical process: today's truths become errors tomorrow; there is no final number.21
To be alive-alive means to be "in error, in search, in questions, in torment," and Zamyatin's prose, right at its logical surface, enforces such a state. There are no "answered questions" here. At best we get clear paradoxes: "errors are more valuable than truths."
The contradictory process which continually provokes the reader with inconsistencies and paradoxes is at work at the level of image as well as explicit logic. In the first passage we looked at, when echoing I-330's argument that there is no final number, Zamyatin concludes the paragraph with an image which, given the anti-mechanistic, anti-mathematical values that seem to dominate We, must be confusing: "Some day an exact formula for the law of revolution will be established. And in this formula, nations, classes, stars—and books—will be expressed as numerical quantities." This would seem to be, not I-330's image and argument, but that of the Benefactor. Order of this mathematical sort, order of law, is intrinsically entropic. But then in the next paragaph the imagery returns to that which fits We: the colors, blue and pink, neatly represent the ordered, enervated One State. While invited to find correspondences between the essay and the novel, the reader at the same time must understand each image on its own; to expect symbolic consistency is antithetical to the heretic's mode.
The logical entanglement the novel performs is most clear when D-503 manages to become Zamyatin's own mouthpiece and thereby forces us to accept arguments we have already dismissed as sophistry. When D-503 tries to distinguish the evil Inquisition from the benevolent "Operational Section" of the One State which enforces orthodoxy by torture, he uses imagery which implies a clear distinction where in fact none exists:
About five centuries ago, when the Operational Section was first being developed, there were some fools who compared the Section to the ancient Inquisition, but that is as absurd as equating a surgeon performing a tracheotomy with a highwayman; both may have the same knife in their hands, both do the same thing—cut a living man's throat—yet one is a benefactor, and the other a criminal; one has a + sign, the other a—. (15:80)
A good reader has an easy enough time side-stepping the implications of this rationalization of oppression. But a little later, in an extraordinary passage, D-503 returns to the subject, and now the same argument and imagery become both more specious and more convincing:
You, Uranians, as austere and dark as the ancient Spaniards who had the wisdom to burn offenders in blazing pyres, you are silent; I think you are on my side. But I hear the pink Venusians muttering something about torture, executions, a return to barbarian times. My dear friends, I pity you: you are incapable of philosophic-mathematical thought.
Human history ascends in circles, like an aero. The circles differ— some are golden, some bloody. But all are equally divided into three hundred and sixty degrees. And the movement is from zero—onward, to ten, twenty, two hundred, three hundred and sixty degrees—back to zero. Yes, we have returned to zero—yes. But to my mathematical mind it is clear that this zero is altogether different, altogether new. We started from zero to the right, we have returned to it from the left. Hence, instead of plus zero, we have minus zero. Do you understand?
I envisage this Zero as an enormous, silent, narrow, knife-sharp crag. In fierce, shaggy darkness, holding our breath, we set out from the black night side of Zero Crag. For ages we, the Columbuses, have sailed and sailed; we have circled the entire earth. And, at long last, hurrah! The burst of a salute, and everyone aloft the masts: before us is a different, hitherto unknown side of Zero Crag, illumined by the northern lights of the One State—a pale blue mass, sparks, rainbows, suns, hundreds of suns, billions of rainbows....
What if we are but a knife's breadth away from the other, the black side of the crag? The knife is the strongest, the most immortal, the most brilliant of man's creations. The knife has been a guillotine; the knife is the universal means of solving all knots; along the knife's edge is the road of paradoxes —the only road of a fearless mind. (20:11-17)
Plus and minus zero may be a meaningless opposition, but no sooner have we dismissed the logic of the infinitesimal difference that makes all the difference than we are confronted with the argument about paradox which is too close to Zamyatin's own pronouncements to be simply rejected. Yet in D-503's mouth the celebration of the "fearless mind" may be mere nonsense. Here we ourselves must distinguish between positive and negative versions which are identical, between plus and minus zero. The act of reading itself engages us in the process the text describes: in the act of rejecting the argument we affirm it.22
This explicit and disconcerting confusion characterizes the symbolic imagery of We. The architecture of the One State expresses a paradoxical state of oppressive innocence much like the state of feeble-minded peace the Time Traveller envisions when he first sees the far future. The numbers all live in glass-walled apartments from which everyone is visible to everyone else. Privacy is unnecessary, it is argued, because there is no guilt. Of course such openness also exposes guilt, and the image of emancipation is entangled with that of severe repression. Thus, one of the the most shocking images of the revolution for D-503 is the sight of couples copulating in the open. Similarly, the Integral, the glass rocketship which D-503 is in charge of building is an instrument of totalitarian imperialism by which the One State will spread its message of obedient uniformity to the whole solar system, and also the key to the revolutionists' plan of escape and revolt. It is thus a symbol both of a repressive, enforced political unity without meaningful opposition and of psychic wholeness, the re-integrated personality that might exist if the numbers could destroy the repressive state.
The pronouns of the novel work in similarly double ways. The "We" of the title represents a denial of the individual psyche: D-503, good citizen, dedicates his diary to the collective:
I shall merely attempt to record what I see and think, or, to be more exact, what we think (precisely so—we, and let this We be the title of my record). But since this record will be a derivative of our life, of the mathematically perfect life of the One State, will it not be, of itself, and regardless of my will or skill, a poem? It will. I believe, I know it.
I write this, and my cheeks are burning. This must be similar to what a woman feels when she first senses within herself the pulse of a new, still tiny. still blind little human being. It is I, and at the same time not I. (1:2)
The initial we is clearly a pious act of individual negation, a willed union which exists in conflict with the many I's in the passage, and the reader easily sees the submerged ego abasing itself but wanting to emerge. But if that first we is totalitarian, in the second paragraph the image of a woman with child poses a more positive idea of "we," one which sees generation and creation as enjoying the "not I" and thereby enforcing a plural even as it is implicitly negated.
Though the pronoun we has these suggestions of psychic possibility, through much of the novel it remains essentially ironic, a self-annihilating expansion of I, until near the end of the novel when the revolutionaries are swarming into the city. At that point, a revolutionary responds to D-503's question, where is I-330?
`Here,' he cried gaily, drunkenly—strong, yellow teeth....`She's here, in
the city, in action. Oh-oh—we are acting!'
Who are we? Who am I? (37:219)
Having worked throughout the novel to free himself from "we," D-503 finds his liberation in terms of a "we." The deep issue here is how can there be an "I" without a "we?" The individualism so championed against the totalitarian state is in itself meaningless; it must place itself in a social context.
The second person pronoun establishes a less complex ambiguity, but one that leads directly to the central conflict of the novel. As his attraction to I-330 deepens and as they get more intimate, she uses the archaic intimate pronoun which he sees as a gesture of condescension:
`Do you like fog?'
She used the ancient, long-forgotten `thou'—the `thou' of the master to the slave. It entered into me slowly, sharply. Yes, I was a slave, and this, too, was necessary, was good. (13:72)
Though D-503, so used to serving others, is probably misunderstanding I-330's linguistic gesture, we should be aware of an ironic truth here. He has just compared himself to a piece of iron drawn to a magnet, and the love relationship has a definite aspect of obedience and servitude to it. A little later, in a rapturous fantasy of meeting I-330, D-503 himself uses the intimate pronoun: "I will use the warm, familiar `thou'—only `thou"' (16:87). Here the pronoun suggests intimacy more than servitude, but the gesture remains servile.
The puzzle about love is given mathematical expression somewhat later:
I am like a machine set at excessive speed; the bearings are overheated; another minute, and molten metal will begin to drip, and everything will turn to naught. Quick—cold water, logic. I pour it by the pailful, but logic hisses on the red-hot bearings and dissipates into the air in whiffs of white elusive steam.
Of course, it's clear: in order to determine the true value of a function it is necessary to take it to its ultimate limit. And it is clear that yesterday's preposterous `dissolution in the universe,' brought to its ultimate point, means death. For death is precisely the most complete dissolution of self in the universe. Hence, if we designate love as `L' and death as `D,' then L=f(D). In other words, love and death.... (24:135)
The formula engages both uses of "thou": love is tyrannical bondage, an obliteration of self, and love is an intimate devotion in which one gives up private interests in attending on the other. But the irony does not end there; the annihilation of the "I" in the "We" so celebrated by D-503 at the beginning corresponds exactly to the relationship expressed by the formula. I do not mean to suggest that the love for the State and the love for I-330 are in every way identical. Clearly they are not; clearly the love for I-330 is energizing while that for the One State is entropic. The formula turns out to have a further meaning when in "Entry 35" D-503 plans to murder U-, drops the curtains of his room, and realizes that the terrified woman thinks he is sexually aroused. In its comic, grotesque inversion of the central energy of his liberation, this scene suggests both the truth of D-503's bondage to I-330 and the absurdity of it. If we compare this complex ironic exploration of devotion to the simple way Helen inspires Graham, we can see how thoroughly anti-utopian Zamyatin is here.
The structural similarity between D-503's love of the State and his love of I-330 re-emerges at the level of plot when it becomes clear that I-330 is using D-503 just as much as the Benefactor is. If the imagery of mechanical order represents one kind of bondage, the imagery of erotic mystery represents another. I-330 has awakened psychological depths in D-503 that the well-oiled state machine has put to sleep, but Zamyatin's dialectic will not let us rest with easy platitudes about healthy emotion: the awakening takes its cost; the mechanical, communal state has, after all, some genuine virtues that are lost in the re-entry into erotic individualism. At the core of the novel lie two contradictory imperatives. One commands commitment outside oneself; the other demands self and wholeness. Life asks both, but the novel sets them up as opposed, and the process of reading is an act of repeatedly moving across the distinction, of constantly rethinking the issue.
If, in terms of its dystopian reintegration of D-503 back into the One State and the sadistic execution of I-330, We has seemed to clarify the heroic ambiguities that muffle the end of WSW, the texture of the whole novel is nevertheless more thoroughly anti-utopian than anything Wells ever wrote. The history of Zamyatin's reception has perhaps tended to obscure this pervasive anti-utopianism of We. Clearly the novel is a satiric attack on Bolshevik totalitarianism, but it does not give easy comfort to the enemies of the One State, either. The novel is "heretical" to the core, and it fights all entropic dogmas, even those which would combat the One State. Unlike Wells's Graham, whose love and heroism remain unquestioned, D-503 is never free to be simply heroic or passionate, for love and heroism themselves are seen as involved in contradictions.
4. In Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984)we see an instance of Wells's and Zamyatin's futures transformed to pure dystopia. Unlike We, in which imagery and symbolism remain contradictory, and unlike When the Sleeper Wakes, in which heroic martyrdom leaves civilization's final destiny ambiguous, 1984 moves towards a resolution of all puzzles. The cruel reality of power means that experiential reality has no meaning and therefore any contradictions perceived are inconsequential. The pressure of conflict that so energized Wells and Zamyatin appears in Orwell on the thematic level as a naive empiricism. In a logical maneuver somewhat like Wells's absolutizing of the unique individual, Orwell renders everything ambiguous as a way of obliterating the distinguishing importance of ambiguity itself.23
"Doublethink" is D-503's psychological self-denial carried to the point at which thought itself becomes impossible.24 D-503's distinctions between plus and minus zero and between the dagger and the scalpel have a logical base; as I have argued, the true energy of Zamyatin's insight derives from the fact that D-503's rationalizations of oppression and repression have an element of real truth in them. "Doublethink" poses even more blatant contradictions, but does so, not as paradox that generates thought, but as an illusion of thought which is nonsense. Contradiction ceases to be meaningful. Two plus two can equal four or five. This is, of course, an obvious thematic truth of the totalitarian state, but it is also structurally true of Orwell's novel.
Orwell begins with a structure that closely echoes Zamyatin's: the totalitarian city is juxtaposed to the natural countryside, and the opposition is mediated by the ancient house, or in Orwell's version, by the antique shop in the prole section. But the opposition is never a real one for Orwell. The countryside turns out to be bugged; real secrecy is possible only in the midst of a crowd. 1984 turns out to expose the naivete of Zamyatin's hopeful structure. Of course, in We there is also a suspicion that the natural alternative outside the Green Wall is not a true alternative: D-503 sees the enigmatic S-4711 in the crowd there. But the ambiguity of this connection (it is never clear whose side S-4711 is on, or if he doesn't represent a power above both sides) is, like all the important ambiguities of the novel, unresolved. Therein lies the continuing possibility of thought. In 1984, on the other hand, resolution takes place with nightmarish finality. The Party controls everything— the countryside, the room, Carrington, O'Brien, the past, and the future.
The last part of the novel is ingenious, not for its mediations or its conflicts, but for the skill with which it robs Smith and the reader of any alternative. The imagery becomes that of total control. Even the room number in the Ministry of Love, 101, while it balances ones, is in its tight symmetry a mirroring trap. And in this room Smith comes to know the fear, not a part of a dynamic structure, but the single, totally dominating core image, the rat, before which all reasoning and morality collapses. And here it is that O'Brien explains the real meaning of power, not as a political issue, not as a synthesis of competing goods or interests, but simply as a monolithic end in itself which denies the whole issue of freedom and happiness that torments Zamyatin and before him Dostoyevsky. The absolute pessimism implied by the complete triumph of the totalitarian state has upset critics; some have tried to see a possibility of change in Oceania's shifting foreign relations, but that seems to be grasping at straws. Orwell has tried to deny change; he has tried to envision the powerlessness of conscious thought and in Zamyatin's sense) the entropic end of history.
But at the middle of the novel, in the picture of the prole washerwoman singing a trite, machine-made popular song, Orwell suggests, not a revolutionary hope, but a level of being that by its very ignorance of the issues of freedom and happiness, by its unconscious co-optation of the culture-producers' co-optation, transcends the totalitarian state. Here is an alternative, but it is one which, by displacing conflict to a completely different level, makes anti-utopian thought irrelevant. At the moment just before his arrest Winston Smith has a vision of prole endurance which, though he still tries to convert it to a conscious political end, stands as a pure bodily fact, deeper than politics:
`Do you remember,' he said, `the thrush that sang to us, that first day, at the edge of the wood?'
`He wasn't singing to us,' said Julia. `He was singing to please himself. Not even that. He was just singing.'
The birds sang, the proles sang, the Party did not sing. All around the world, in London and New York, in Africa and Brazil and in the mysterious, forbidden lands beyond the frontiers, in the streets of Paris and Berlin, in the villages of the endless Russian plain, in the bazaars of China and Japan—everywhere stood the same solid unconquerable figure, made monstrous by work and child-bearing, toiling from birth to death and still singing. Out of those mighty loins a race of conscious beings must one day come. You were the dead; theirs was the future. But you could share in that future if you kept alive the mind as they kept alive the body, and passed on the secret doctrine that two plus two make four.
`We are the dead,' he said.
`We are the dead,' echoed Julia dutifully.
`You are the dead,' said an iron voice behind them. (2:3:182)25
Despite the false note of Smith's political rhetoric ("unconquerable," "Out of those mighty loins a race..."), this passage still suggests in simple being an alternative to the Party's rule. In the all-controlling state, consciousness is dead, but life, the singing thrush, the singing woman, persists, not as an ethical social fact, not even as a challenge to the Party's domination, but as simple biology. If there is any hope in 1984, it lies here in the unreflecting joy of being. We are back at the issue of evolution and ethics, but now the ethical component is seen as impossible and irrelevant. Evolution, not as a historical, social process, but as purely biological survival, is the sole value. Winston Smith's hope of keeping "alive the mind as they kept alive the body" is vain; the mind is always trapped. But the body persists and finds joy even if Oceania succeeds as a thousand-year Reich.
Orwell's imagination, always attuned to suffering, has managed to box itself in; the art of 1984, its greatness, is in the relentless denial of the possibility of change. If hope is ever raised—as it certainly is by Goldstein's book—it is raised to dashed. Orwell's pessimism reduces dynamic conflict to a monolithic truth.
To transform such a dystopia into utopia requires discovering a different set of images that will be similarly free from ambiguity and conflict but which will function positively instead of negatively. Positive and negative are deceptive terms here; they imply a symmetry around a neutral middle which is in fact very difficult to achieve. It is a commonplace of modern criticism that there are no authentic heroes, only anti-heroes. Whereas the purely negative image is easily acceded to, the positive is deeply suspect. A single negative connotation will rob an image of its positive value, while a single positive connotation will not prevent an image from seeming totally negative. To say that a rat is intelligent does not make it any the less powerfully negative; like Satan, "by merit raised/To that bad eminence," its virtues simply increase its horror. On the other hand, positive images can be rendered ineffectual by a simple observation of how powerless they are. Given this imbalance in the present state of values, the utopian image must often depend on what in cinematic terms we would call soft-focus: a blurred vision which never looks closely enough at the image td discover flaws. Wells performs exactly such a shift of lens in the last part of IDC, and we see such a blur at the heart of Rav Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451.
Montag, the protagonist of Bradbury's novel, like Graham, D-503, and Winston Smith, is a man coming to consciousness and attempting the overthrow or reformation of the closed, totalitarian, futuristic world he valued at the start. As in the other novels we have looked at, here too a woman is the inspiration for the change of mind. As in the other works, the act of seeing beyond the present is at least in part an act of recovery of a lost tradition: Graham is a revolutionary because he retains l9th-centry sentiments of justice which the future world claims to have outgrown; D-503 and Winston Smith find an alternative to the totalitarian state in the antique parts of civilization. And Montag rediscovers books, which the future society has banned. Other similarities might be traced, but my point in sketching the by now conventional situation is not to estimate the extent of Bradbury's debt to the tradition, but to establish a broad common background against which we can understand the different way Bradbury's images function logically.
In Fahrenheit 451 the future is bad because people, denied the rich traditional culture contained in books and imaged by nature, have become unstimulated and unstimulating. The dystopian world is in large part conveyed in terms of the denial of positives. Firechief Beatty's defense of the bookless future is essentially that of the Grand Inquisitor, with the important change that the mass's fear of freedom is seen to be a historical phenomenon, a failure of education. In the past, so the ironic argument goes, people were capable of freedom, but because of technology and the triumph of a debased mass culture they have lost their ability to choose and their joy in freedom.
Beatty's argument seems to be the author's; in Montag's wife we see heavily done exactly the mindlessness, the need for booklessness that Beatty defends. Beatty argues that mass culture is necessarily simple and, therefore, inevitably a decline from our own élite culture based on books, and in much of its satire the novel supports him. Where the novel makes Beatty clearly an ironic spokesman to be refuted is not in his characterization of the masses and what they want, but in his inadequate appreciation of the sensitive few who are capable of freedom.
The novel expresses this vision of freedom with images of sentimentalized nature (Clarisse rhapsodizes about the smell of leaves, the sight of the man in the moon26), the recollection of the small, mid-western town (the front porch and the rocking chair become symbols of freedom), some tag ends of 1930s' romanticizing of Depression survival, and an unquestioning admiration for books. This cluster poses an absolute pole around which accrues all good and in relation to which all movement away is bad. The dystopian and utopian possibilities in the novel are thus represented by separate clusters of images and ideas that the novel finds unambiguous and leaves unchallenged.
What needs emphasis here is the extent to which Bradbury's novel preserves the dystopian-utopian structure by ignoring the implications of its own imagery. The author advises his audience that they must preserve books to prevent the horror he imagines, but he never questions the values implicit in the books. When the new age is accused of serious flaws—unhappiness, fear, war, and wasted lives—there is no sense that the age of books may have also suffered from such problems. At the end, in his vision of a wandering group of book-people Bradbury invokes an idealized hobo mystique, but with little sense of the limits and tragedy of such a life.
In such a simple system of good and bad values, mediation produces horror rather than thought. Nature is good and technology is bad, but the ultimate terror is a mixture of the two, a kind of symbolic miscegenation. When Montag finally makes his break from the technological future he is pursued by a "mechanical hound," a terrifying figure which combines the relentlessness of the bloodhound with the infallibility of technology. In Bradbury's vision the hound is most terrifying for being both alive and not alive.
The threat the hound poses for the imagery system of the novel is put to rest the moment Montag escapes him, and the clear opposition between technology and nature that Clarisse has preached strongly reasserts itself. Montag hears a whisper, sees "a shape, two eyes" in the forest and is convinced it is the hound, but it turns out to be a deer, not just harmless, but afraid of him (3:128).27 Nature is submissive and controllable, while technology is predatory and threatening. This important refuge then leads to a sequence of reversals. Montag sees a fire in the woods and for the first time in his life realizes that fire need not be destructive, that in providing warmth it can be benign (31:130). And this perception leads to a moment of trance in which Montag resees himself:
How long he stood he did not know, but there was a foolish and yet delicious sense of knowing himself as an animal come from the forest, drawn by the fire. He was a thing of brush and liquid eye, of fur and muzzle and hoof, he was a thing of horn and blood that would smell like autumn if you bled it out on the ground. (3:130)
I take it that this reduction of the human to animal parts is somehow consoling and ennobling. Like all the nature images in this novel, the purple rhetoric obscures true perception, but nevertheless the revelation is there and the blurred but central symbolic transformation of the novel is complete: Montag has escaped the urban world of destructive technology and joined the nurturing forest world. By rescuing fire for the good, natural side, he has enabled the novel to convert dystopia into utopia.
The interesting difficulty is where do books fit into this simple opposition? Since Gutenberg the book has been a symbol of technological progress. Bradbury partly counters this meaning of his symbol by reducing his pastoral, not to paper books, but to humans who remember books. Thus the replication and general availability that are books' virtues, but which the novel has seen as the instruments of the mass-culture that has ruined the world, are denied. We have the idea of the book without the fact of its production. Then, by becoming a general symbol of the past now denied, the book becomes a symbol for all old values, but this symbolism brings up two difficulties. First, whatever good books have propagated, they have also preached the evils that have oppressed the world. The very technology that the novel finds threatening would be impossible without books. Second, books can readily inspire a repressive and tradition-bound pedantry which, while anti-technological, is also against nature.
Through most of Fahrenheit 451 Bradbury simply ignores these potential problems with his symbol; but in the final pages, in an act of renunciation that is surprising given the values the novel has promulgated, the moral vision retreats from its main symbolism. The memorizers of books are about to move out of the forest to give succor to the cities that have just-been bombed: and Grander, the leader of the bookish hoboes, says:
Hold onto one thought: you're not important. You're not anything. Some day the load we're carrying with us may help someone. But even when we had the books on hand, a long time ago, we didn't use what we got out of them. We went right on insulting the dead. We went right on spitting on the graves of all the poor ones who died before us. We're going to meet a lot of lonely people in the next week and the next month and the next year. And when they ask us what we're doing, you can say, We're remembering. That's where we'll win out in the long run. And some day we'll remember so much that we'll build the biggest steamshovel in history and dig the biggest grave of all time and shove war in and cover it up. (3:146)
The vagueness, ambiguity, and misdirection of this passage confuse what Granger is saying; but in the technological imagery of the last line and in the attack on the previously sentimentalized past, in the recognition that books have done little to make life better, this paragraph implies a renunciation of the values the novel has been, however naïvely, building. But perhaps it is also, finally, an awareness of a true opposition, of an irony that gets beyond the simple sentimentalisms of much of the novel. Though one may have doubts as to how to take it, one way would be to see here a titantic revision of values, a deep questioning of the pieties that have inspired Montag and Clarisse. In line with such a reading we should observe that one of the books Montag remembers is Ecclesiastes: perhaps this is an allusion to the Preacher's famous words against the vanity of life, and particularly the vanity of books. But, then, to read it this way would be to suppose that Bradbury is attempting anti-utopian thought, and that seems unlikely.28
Bradbury's novel is in the tradition of utopian prose put forth by Wells himself in his later romances. Whatever political differences we might discover between Wells's sane, organized, post-comet societies and Bradbury's nomadic society in nature, we can see that they both depend on an imagery which ignores contradiction. Such utopian thought is incompatible with the basic logical techniques of Wells's earlier work. It marks an evasion of the pressure of contradiction. It attempts to bring about conviction not by thought, but by the emotive power of rhythmic prose, the attractiveness of pretty images, the appeal to hope which will treat doubt as merely regretful cynicism. Such utopian images have an honored place, but they belong to a genus quite unlike the anti-utopian investigations that mark Wells's greatest scientific romances.
Bradbury's novel is clearly utopian-dystopian. What may not be so clear is how much a more complicated work, Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (BNW), shares Fahrenheit 451's rigid values and repeats the same essential logical structure. In the light of the distinctions I am outlining here, BNW, while it may seem to echo the anti-utopianism of Wells and Zamyatin in a number of ways,29 is mainly dystopian.
Like Bradbury's novel, BNW sets up simple plus-minus oppositions. Huxley defends nature against technology, and the individual against society.30 The social is the debased in Huxley's novel, and the recurrent image of the twin multiplied carries that meaning. There are numerous passages which convey satiric thrust simply by rendering in detail "the nightmare of swarming, indistinguishable sameness":
The menial staff of the Park Lane Hospital for the Dying consisted of one hundred and sixty-two Deltas divided into two Bokanovsky Groups of eighty-four red-headed female and seventy-eight dark dolychocephalic male twins, respectively. At six when their working day was over, the two Groups assembled in the vestibule of the Hospital and were served by the Deputy Sub Bursar with their soma ration. (15:160)
The numerical exactness, the scientific terminology, and the attention to precise titles here are vehicles of sarcastic scorn. Huxley's point is obvious and much commented on; my aim here is not to criticize it but to observe the way he presents it. There is none of the ambivalence we are used to in Wells; here we know exactly and unambiguously what we are supposed to be scorning.
Against this multiplied sameness, the novel sets up the individual as the only true principle of meaning. In its dignifying of individual suffering and self-sacrifice, BNW shows itself as much less pessimistic than 1984. In Orwell's work the individual has been deprived of meaning, even that of conscious nay-saying, by the unchallengeable power of the Party. In Huxley's novel, John, disgusted with the world, can achieve a victory by dying.31 The motives for John's behavior do not seem to enter the novel's awareness,32 and the complacent rejection of the whole New World system of test-tube babies, feelies, and some hardly permits real inquiry. At bottom the novel is a skillful voicing of prejudices in favor of a cultural ideal which it symbolizes by the works of Shakespeare.
It is worth comparing the way this novel treats test-tube methods to the way Wells treats Selenite methods of child-raising.33 As I read them, the passages in which Wells describes the conditioning of infants suggest that even as he sees the horror, he can imagine the virtues. In that tension resides his anti-utopian vigor. Huxley, however, as he ironically champions the method, rejects it without reason. Like the reporter in Wells's "The Land Ironclads," he is too good a journalist to spoil his contrast by admitting that what he is attacking has any virtues. I don't mean to suggest that test-tube methods or multiplied twins are "good," but only that Huxley does not think out why they are not good. An illuminating contrast to his easy rejection would be Ursula Le Guin's short story, "Nine Lives," which explores the virtues and drawbacks of just such identical replication.34
In Mustapha Mond's explanation to John of the rationale behind the modern social techniques, we see not the dialectic of the Grand Inquisitor, but despair. As in Bradbury's novel, the irony of the speech is doubly vicious: the debased mass culture is a horror, and the debased masses deserve it. In the place of the investigation into the freedom-happiness dichotomy that characterizes anti-utopia, this vision denies the possibility of exchange. The logic leads to the conclusion that a free, meaningful society is a contradiction; society is by its very structure valued by the "happiness" it produces, not by the meaning it generates. Thus Mond's horrible paradox: only by debasing life can he perfect it. As Adorno observes, Huxley's "anger at false happiness sacrifices the idea of true happiness as well."35
Such dystopian thought depends on secure values and categories. In Bradbury, nature and books, in Huxley, Shakespeare, freedom, and suffering, are undoubted positives against which all social forms look trivial. I suspect that the depressing quality of BNW is not the result of real pessimism but of this relentless trivialization of all social activity.36 By contrast, in an antiutopian form all positives turn up-side-down, and even the most escapist society has its attractions. In The Time Machine, the "hateful grindstone of pain and necessity" is both admired and dreaded. In We useful books are instruments of oppression; eroticism, while liberating is captivating; nature is both escape and perhaps betrayal; freedom is an exhilarating illusion.
Such anti-utopian logic is rare; it never becomes the distinguishing mark of a school or movement. Thus, American SF as a whole, from the 1930s into the '60s, is generally utopian. In its deep structure Bradbury's dystopia-utopia is typical of the rest. It shares with Heinlein's rhapsodies of powerful, charismatic individuals and Asimov's ironic fables about economic triumph a common assurance that whatever new will occur will not in any deep way disrupt a set of values that conform closely to what might be called "Americanism." There are numerous historical reasons for this cautious utopianism: the perceived threats of Communism on one side and Fascism on the other, the war, the precarious sense that a "positive" attitude was the only way out of economic depression. There are also, of course, lazier reasons: the inertia of popular forms. the use of popular literature for blatant propaganda.
In such a context, the antithesis to the prevailing utopian-dystopian mode is not a genuine anti-utopianism, but an ironic comedy which, far from meditating on the ways opposing truths can be made to co-exist, enjoys debunking all truth. Contradiction here is not enlightening; it simply proves the futility of real thought, the impossibility of discovering or instituting new ideas. The works of such perceptive writers as Tenn, Sheckley, or Vonnegut, outrageous as they can sometimes be, are finally trapped in the dilemma of the prevailing utopianism. Vonnegut's colloquialized Zen ("So it goes") is a resignation to the overwhelming undeniability of the world as it is. The contradictions he perceives merely prove that humans are inconsistent, that society is thoughtlessly cruel, and that, to quote Winnie Verloc, Life does "not stand looking into very much." Such comedy may remind us of some of Wells's ironic tales of incompetence—"The Empire of the Ants" (1905), "The Man Who Could Work Miracles" (1898), the opening section of The Food of the Gods (1904)—but it is a far cry from that passionate anti-utopianism of the great romances or even from the exhilarating utopianism of Wells's later projects.
5. It is appropriate to close our investigation of Wells's logic by tipping the balance back. Let us look again at Wells's A Modern Utopia (1905), for here, in a work which by its title and by the date of its writing we would expect to imitate the utopian style of IDC, we find traces of the anti-utopian irony reminiscent of the earlier work.
The narrator of A Modern Utopia, what Wells calls "the owner of the Voice," is an ironic device that Wells uses as a way not of withholding full assent to the ideas he sets forth, but of suggesting the contradictory fullness of human hopes and, therefore, of expressing his anti-utopian awareness of the narrowness of his fervently held utopian ideas even as he declares them. The irony here is not satiric; it is like the wit T.S. Eliot praises in Andrew Marvell: "It involves probably, a recognition, implicit in the expression of every experience, of other kinds of experience which are possible."37 Wells's irony allows, perhaps forces, the reader to assume a stance that encompasses a more complex understanding than the speaker is able to render explicitly. The reader sees everything that the author sees and also those exceptions and flaws which a deep understanding must encompass but which the author cannot acknowledge without undermining the rational force and persuasiveness of his ideas. The irony is, therefore, partly a rhetorical device to absorb criticism at the loose edges of the work, but it is also a logical device that creates a double perspective. Thus, A Modern Utopia, like many sophisticated utopias, contains a strong anti-utopian element.
The Botanist who accompanies the Voice throughout A Modern Utopia and who dreams of rescuing his childhood sweetheart from "that scoundrel" (her husband) repeatedly draws our attention to the limits of utopia. While the Voice sees the Botanist as an instance of the kind of romantic sublimation that utopia will obviate, the Botanist hates the utopia in which domestic dramas such as the one in which he imagines himself playing the romantic hero will be unnecessary, even impossible. In the midst of rational idealizations we are reminded of the stubborn, self-indulgent irrationality of human nature. The Botanist, for all his foolishness—in some respects he reminds one strongly of the Curate in The War of the Worlds—imparts shading to the clear, bright imaginings of the Voice. Yet the Botanist is not simply against utopia. He is, in fact, a warped version of Wells himself; he wants a utopia, but he wants his utopia, not the Voice's, and his selfish sentimentalism leads him to be quite unhappy in the Voice's utopia. Though Wells clearly finds the Botanist comically puerile, in other novels, such as The Passionate Friends, such a man, who secretly, even unconsciously, nurses a hidden flame and who at the second chance bursts into full passion, is a sympathetic figure for him. The Botanist, therefore, must be seen not as a trivial negation but as the expression of a reality: the unpredictable individual who cannot conform to the utopianist's neat plan.
We can appreciate the anti-utopian subtlety of this device by observing that Wells gives us as a foil to the Botanist a foppish Utopian who declares himself in opposition to all the ideals of Utopia. "The world, he held, was overmanaged and that was the root of all evil" (4:120).38 This man is too clearly trivial to be anti-utopian in the sense I am using the term; for Wells himself the root of all evil is the under-management of the world, and this silly figure is simply hypocritical and wrong. Like the Artilleryman in The War of the Worlds, this man looks to the collapse of civilization as a way of getting back to "nature" and to "human nature," and as in the case of the Artilleryman, a deep hypocrisy underlines the inadequacy of this stance, for he accepts all the benefits of the wondrous civilization he damns. Unlike the sentimental Botanist, this man, rather than generating any serious questions about the purpose and success of utopia, merely gives criticism of utopia a bad name.
Though the main thrust of A Modern Utopia, is as we would expect, utopian, Wells sprinkles an anti-utopian awareness throughout. The Voice's regret about bringing the Botanist along is an acknowledgment that social solutions are easy if we simplify humanity. Sometimes he remarks with a wary sense of self-criticism on how much "discipline and sacrifice" figure in his imaginings (7:234; 8:250). He can in the midst of meditations on social harmony introject an awareness of the serious problems energetic individuals pose: "What will Utopia do with Mr Roosevelt?" (1:28); Griffin and Nunez have not been forgotten.
Towards the end of A Modern Utopia, when he returns to the horrors of this world, the Voice has a moment when he doubts the value of utopian imaginings altogether. Our own world,
has a glare, it has a tumult and a vigour that shouts one down. It shouts one down, if shouting is to carry it. What good was it to trot along the pavement through this noise and tumult of life, pleading Utopia to that botanist? What Good would it be to recommend Utopia in this driver's preoccupied ear?
There are moments in the life of every philosopher and dreamer when he feels himself the flimsiest of absurdities, when the Thing in Being has its way with him, its triumphant way, when it asks in a roar, unanswerably, with a fine solid use of current vernacular, `What Good is all this—Rot about Utopias?' (11:366)
Here is the anti-utopian structure. Wells's utopia exists in an entirely ironic relation with what is; and if at the center are single-minded imaginings of a sane society, the whole is infiltrated by a pervasive awareness of "insanities."39
What we have, then, in A Modern Utopia, is a gesture back towards the familiar two-world system of the early "scientific romances"; this world and utopia are juxtaposed, and Wells delights in tracing the parallels in order to uncover where important difference is possible. The beautiful machine, the efficient hotel room, the erection of the ugliest building, the treatment of motherhood as a service to the state—all are discovered as parallels with a difference to our own world. Yet A Modern Utopia differs from the earlier two-world systems in that the contrast is not balanced; here there is clear choice as to which world is preferable. If the ironies of The Time Machine never resolve, here the utopia is pervasively good and "sane" whatever doubts we may continue to entertain; and our world, however much we like it and however much it shouts thought down, is severely under-managed and "insane."
Once that important difference is granted, however, we can see how the freedoms of the two-world system continue to function in A Modern Utopia. They allow for what the Voice praises in Plato: "the experimental inconsistency of an enquiring man" (6:209). The utopia exists, not as a prophecy, not even as a goal, but as an intellectual puzzle which is valuable, not for its conclusions, but for the exercise of imagination it demands.
In the last chapter Wells says this, and the image he uses is telling:
For a time I sit restfully enjoying the Botanist s companionable silence, and thinking fragmentarily of those samurai and their Rules. I entertain something of the satisfaction of a man who has finished building a bridge: I feel that I have joined together things that I had never joined before. My Utopia seems real to me, very real, I can believe in it, until the metal chair-back gives to my shoulder blades, and Utopian sparrows twitter and hop before my feet. I have a pleasant moment of unhesitating self-satisfaction: I feel a shameless exultation to be there. For a moment I forget the consideration the Botanist demands; the mere pleasure of completeness of holding and controlling all the threads, possesses me. (11:353-54; emphasis added)
In this passage we see both the pure joy in "bridging," reminiscent of the taxidermist's fraudulent art (in "The Triumphs of a Taxidermist") and characteristic of Wells's earliest, anti-utopian work; and the more purely utopian "pleasure of completeness, of holding and controlling all the threads." This latter pleasure, though expressed with some wry irony, is distrustful of the openness and skepticism of irony itself. The passage accepts the structure of early Wells but strives to turn it to a less open yet more assured stance like that characteristic of Wells's later work.
1. In the next decade Wells would publish a series of novels (Love and Mr Lewisham, 1900; Kipps, 1905; Tono-Bungay, 1909; Ann Veronica, 1909; The History of Mr Polly, 1910; The New Machiavelli, 1911; Marriage, 1912; The Passionate Friends, 1913; The Wife of Sir Isaac Harman, 1914; Boon, 1915; The Research Magnificent, 1915; Mr Britling Sees It Through, 1916) whose concern is not to imagine a future, but to see England as it is.
2. See The Wonderful Visit, chap. 28; and also my essay cited in the headnote to this article, esp. pp. 240-44.
3. The essence of utopia, as I am using the term here, resides in its presenting us with "a serious vision of society as a single intellectual pattern" (Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism [lPrinceton, 1957], p. 310. Cf. Darko Suvin, "Defining the Literary Genre of Utopia: Some Historical Semantics, Some Genology, a Proposal, and a Plea," in Metamorphoses of Science Fiction [lNew Haven, 1979], p. 49). Under dystopia I include what Frye elsewhere calls "utopian satire" (see his "Varieties of Literary Utopia," in Utopias and Utopian Thought, ed. Frank E. Manuel [1965; rpt. Boston, 1967], p. 19) and what many writers call anti-utopia (Cf. Hillegas, The Future as Nightmare [NY, 1967], pp. 3, 4, et passim, and Suvin, op. cit., pp. 61-62). I am reserving the term anti-utopia for a mode of imagining which is critical not of the utopian political structure, but of the way of thought that constructs it. Thus, anti-utopia, in this formulation, is a different genre from utopia.
4. Suvin, op. cit., p. 49.
5. It is this deep structural identity that leads Lewis Mumford to see all utopian thought as totalitarian (see his "Utopia, the City, and the Machine," in Utopias and Utopian Thought, ed. Manuel, p. 9). Mumford uses the term dystopia in a strange way, however: though at times he seems to mean an oppressive and totalitarian structure such that all utopias are potentially dystopias, at other times he means chaos, "total destruction and extermination" (p. 18), the total rejection of order (p. 23). Such a definition seems too idiosyncratic to be useful. It certainly does not fit what are conventionally called dystopias.
6. Cf. Robert C. Elliott, The Shape of Utopia: Studies in a Literary Genre (Chicago, 1970), pp. 22-24; and Frye, Anatomy of Criticism, p. 310.
7. For example, in the description of the Utopian war policy More may be indulging in what I am calling anti-utopian thought even as he builds one of the great utopias. It may be that pure utopianism is possible only in what I would call naïve utopias, that is, in those imaginative constructs such as Looking Backward and Walden Two which the author has serious hopes of realizing.
8. Though we might see in this charismatic figure a prefiguration of fascism, the charge of obscurity still holds. After all, one of the charges to be made against fascism is that it obfuscates true economic and political relationships by focusing on the leader's personality.
9. The blur here, as Bergonzi observes (The Early H.G. Wells [Manchester, 1961], pp. 152-55) results in part at least from Wells's own sympathy with Ostrog's position.
10. H.G. Wells, When the Sleeper Wakes (1899; rpt. NY: Ace Books, n.d.).
11. See Leo Lowenthal and Norbert Guterman, Prophets of Deceit: A Study of the Techniques of the American Agitator (Palo Alto, CA: 1970).
12. Norman and Jeanne Mackenzie, H. G. Wells (NY, 1973), p. 150; Bergonzi, op. cit., pp. 140-41.
13. See n. 3 above.
14. The importance of WSW in the history of SF and of utopian literature has been much commented on. My aim in what follows is not to trace a literary history but to define different utopian and anti-utopian modes. For the history, see R.D. Mullen, "H.G. Wells and Victor Rousseau Emanuel: When the Sleeper Wakes and The Messiah of the Cylinder," Extrapolation, 8 (1966):31-63.
15. The contraries of R.U.R. appear to be quite conscious. Capek himself describes them:
The General Manager Domin, in the play, proves that technical progress emancipates man from hard manual labour, and he is quite right. The Tolstòya nAlquist, on the contrary, believes that technical progress demoralizes him, and I think he is right, too. Bussman thinks that industrialism alone is capable of supplying modern needs; he is right. Ellen is instinctively afraid of all this inhuman machinery, and she is profoundly right. Finally, the Robots themselves revolt against all these idealists, and, as it appears, they are right, too.
Quoted from "The Meaning of R.U.R."(1923), in Hillegas, op. cit., p. 96.
16. For Stapledon's dialectic, see Mark Rose, Alien Encounters: Anatomy of Science Fiction (Cambridge, MA: 1981), pp. 112-118; and my, "Olaf Stapledon and the Novel About the Future," Contemporary Literature, 22 (1981):349-65.
17. The subtitle, which appears on the title page of the first edition (NY: Harper & Row, 1974), appears in the (Avon, 1975) paperback edition only on the cover (as if it were advertising copy).
18. Zamyatin's debt to Wells is great. See Hillegas, The Future as Nightmare, pp. 106-07; Patrick Parrinder, "Imagining the Future: Wells and Zamyatin," SFS, 1 (1973):17-26 (rpt. in H.G. Wells and Modern Science Fiction, ed. D. Suvin and R.M. Philmus [Lewisburg, PA: 1977], pp. 126-43); Christopher Collins, "Zamyatin, Wells and the Utopian Literary Tradition," The Slavonic and F.ast European Review, 44 (1966):351-60; Alex M. Shane, The Life and Works of Eugenij Zamjatin (Berkeley, 1968), pp. 140, 185. Zamyatin's essay on Wells (1922), which served as the introduction to the Soviet edition of Wells's works, may be found in A Soviet Heretic: Essays by Yevgeny Zamyatin, ed. and trans. Mirra Ginsburg (Chicago: Chicago UP, 1970), pp. 259-90, and, abridged, trans. Leslie Milne, in H. G. Wells: The Critical Heritage, ed. Patrick Parrinder (London & Boston: Routledge, 1972), pp. 258-274.
19. Yevgeny Zamyatin, We, trans. Mirra Ginsburg (NY: Bantam, 1972).
20. "On Literature, Revolution, Entropy, and Other Matters," in A Soviet Heretic, pp. 1074)8. Zamyatin's concept of entropy, though it claims the sanction of scientific metaphor, is antithetical to what physicists mean by the word. For Zamvatin entropy is a deadening order. In physics order takes energy, and entropy entails an increasing disorder.
21. Ibid., p. 110.
22. It might be argued that Wells is generating a similar confusion when he gives Ostrog arguments close to his own ideas, but though the irony has interesting biographical implications, it does not seem intentional. Certainly Wells's novel does not insist on paradox in other ways.
23. See Orwell's review of We in The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, ed. Sonia Orwell and lan Angus, 4 vols. (NY: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1968), 4:72-75. For Orwell's debt to WSW, see Hillegas, op. cit., p. 125.
24. See Robert M. Philmus, "The Language of Utopia," Studies in the Literary Imagination, 6 (1973):76-77.
25. George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four (NY: New American Library, 1961).
26. Cf. Truffaut's comment about making the film of Fahrenheit 451: "I've preferred the character of Linda, conventional but touching, to that of Clarisse, more heavily conventional because pseudo-poetic." Francois Truffaut, "The Journal of Fahrenheit 451," in Focus on the Science Fiction Film, ed. William Johnson (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1972), p. 123.
27. Quotations are from Fahrenheit 451 (NY: Ballantine Books, 1953).
28. It may be foolish to take Bradbury's meanings seriously. Clifton Fadiman in his forward to The Martian Chronicles (NY, Bantam, 1951), p. viii, found in Bradbury a deep pessimism about technology, especially space travel, but in recent years Bradbury has been one of the most fervent boosters of the space program. See his fulsome praise of space flight as a religious exercise in "From Stonehenge to Tranquillity Base," Playboy, Dec. 1972. Of course the man may have changed his mind, but the style and imagery of his writing remains the same, and I suspect we have here evidence, not of a, reversal, but of confused broadmindedness.
29. Huxley disclaimed any knowledge of We when writing BNW, but Hillegas makes the reasonable surmise that as an alert intellectual in the'20s Huxley would have known about Zamyatin's novel even if he had not actually read it. See The Future as Nightmare, p. 186, n. 2.
30. The simplicity of these basic values is somewhat obscured in the novel by being overlaid with a secondary opposition between modern and primitive societies. Huxley himself, in the 1946 "Foreword" to BNW, focuses on this issue as a Hobson's choice between "insanity" and "lunacy": Brave New World & Brave New World Revisited (NY: Harper Torchbooks, 1960), p. xiv. There are some possibilities for anti-utopian thought here, but this anti-utopian puzzle is really a tub distracting us from the novel's championing of a despairing individualism against all forms of social organization.
31. Here, like Kuno and Vashti in Forster's "The Machine Stops," he achieves a "spiritual" escape.
32. "The Savage's outburst against his beloved, then, is not so much the protest of pure human nature against the cold impudence of fashion, as was perhaps intended; rather, poetic justice turns it into the aggression of the neurotic who, as the Freud whom Huxley treats rather shabbily could easily have told him, is motivated in his frantic purity by repressed homosexuality": Theodor W. Adorno, "Aldous Huxley and Utopia," in Prisms, trans. Samuel and Shierry Weber (London, 1967), p. 106.
33. My comparison agrees essentially with that made briefly by Jerome Meckier, Aldous Huxley: Satire and Structure (NY, 1969), p. 187.
34. This much-reprinted story can be found in Le Guin's collection The Wind's Twelve Quarters (NY: Harper & Row. 1975), pp. 129-60.
35. Adorno, op. cit., pp. 103-04.
36. Cf. Hillegas, The Future as Nightmare, p. 119.
37. T.S. Eliot, "Andrew Marvell," in Selected Essays: 1917-1932 (NY: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1932), p. 250.
38. H.G. Wells, A Modern Utopia, ed. Mark R. Hillegas (Lincoln, NE: Nebraska UP, 1967).
39. A similar point has been developed by David Y. Hughes, "The Mood of A Modern Utopia, " Extrapolation, 19 (1977):56-67.
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